In this tight economy it's more important than ever to make your money work for you. Here are some tips for the average person:
Savings. If you can get your employer to purchase US Savings Bonds right out of your pre-tax paycheck, set it up for an automatic buy. You won't miss the $25 if you never see it. As it is a bond, you won't lose your initial investment, and you will probably be more hesitant to pull it out for cash than you would be with a regular savings account. Series EE bonds are sold at half their face value, so if you hold it to maturity it will be worth $50 one day and if you hold it longer it may accrue a value higher than the face value. After thirty years the bond will not accrue any further value. Series I bonds are sold at face value, the minimum purchase is $50. The current rate is more than twice that of an EE bond, so if you can afford the $50 a pay period, or $50 a month, it's a better investment.
Savings Accounts: believe it or not, some banks still charge for a savings account unless you are a minor or keep a minimum balance. Since it would be goofy to LOSE money on a savings account shop around. ING direct, an on line bank allows free savings accounts without a minimum. Sometimes if you link your checking to your savings account the fee is waived. As a last resort you could have a co-owner who is very young or very old to qualify for something free, beware though, if they share ownership they are free to drain the account. If you can't keep a minimum balance in an account ,see if they will waive your fee in exchange for direct deposit of your paycheck or social security check.
Credit Cards: Use them like debit cards, i.e. pay off the balance in full every month. If you make a purchase with a credit card, remove that amount of money from your ledger as if that money has been spent. That way you will have it when the bill comes due. Do this diligently with all your regular purchases such as gas and groceries, and in no time you qualify for some kind of dividend or cash back. If your credit card doesn't off dividends or cash back look for one that does at a website or store you shop at regularly. Sierratradingpost.com, for example, will give you free shipping if you purchase at their site with their card. Amazon.com credit cards will give you gift certificates to use at their site once you make enough purchase points. Any purchases made with their card at their site have more value than regular purchases and so on.
Save on gas, be mindful of your shopping habits. If you are driving all over town to save a few bucks on groceries think about the cost of the gas you are using. Factor it in. My friends will drive over 80 miles round trip from our rural community to the nearest cities because milk and eggs are a few dollars less. This makes sense if you commute for work any way. It makes much less sense if you are making a special trip because the cost of gas negates the savings. Think of it this way: until you are saving more than the $20 in gas, the extra trip is a wash. You have to be saving MORE THAN the cost of the gas plus the cost of your time. The same goes for paying $50 or more annually to join a shopping club. You have to save MORE than the $50 to make your membership worthwhile. Ask yourself if you don't in fact spend more than usual at a shopping club, because the prices seem so good. . . .
Movies: Of course you can can the movies and join Netflix. At home with your own microwave popcorn a family of five will save hundreds of dollars a year by skipping movie theater movies. Movies are fun though. Save time by buying tickets ahead of time on line places like Fandango. Take your kids to the movies well fed so you don't have to pay marked up prices for candy and soda. Look for small arty movie theaters that show older discount movies. Sometimes you can find unusual picks at a movie theater associated with an art institute or museum. Lastly, there's the matinee weekday trick, pick up your kids after school and head straight for the mall. The lines are shorted and the price is less.
Food: fill up on fiber. Low on the food chain items that are the least processed are the cheapest, healthiest way to feel full. Eat salad, apples and regular rice instead of frozen processed foods full of excess sodium and artificial flavorings. Drink water instead of soda, your teeth will thank you for it. If the only sugar you ate was in honey, you would find you come to appreciate flavors and savor taste more. No need to go vegan, just try to eat "Asian" with meat as part of the meal in lieu of your centerpiece of a meal.
Clothes: Buy the best quality clothes you can find for lowest prices online someplace like Ebay. Designer made clothes, even second hand, with lining and double seam stitching are a better investment than poorly made clothes bought new at Wal-mart. Quality clothing fits better too. Everyone looks better in clothes that fit well. If you don't know your size, try on fine clothing at a department store first, so you can learn what your size is with a reputable maker. Consignment shops are also good if you live in a city large enough to have selection. Hit up yard sales in the more expensive areas of the city you live in. My brother and I got all our board games this way with every piece intact, at a fraction of the cost of being them new.